Alison Krauss and Union Station came to the Roanoke Civic Center in Roanoke, VA with Willie Nelson and Family and played to nearly 5,000 fans on May 13. Add the opening band, Devil Makes Three, just nominated for Americana Music Association’s Duo/Group of the Year award, and it was a recipe for a sweet night of music.
Sandwiched between two weeks of cancelled shows, the Roanoke date went on, as did the shows in Nashville, Columbus, OH and several other cities. The postponed shows were attributed to an urgent health issue in the AKUS camp but whatever the issue, there was no mention of it during the concert, and the show did go on.
The talented up and coming band, Devil Makes Three, opened the show with a 30 minute set. They are quite good, and certainlythere are good things ahead for them.
Alison is known for her ethereal voice and for her powerhouse bluegrass band, which includes Dan Tyminski, Jerry Douglas, Barry Bales, and Ron Block. Both lived up to expectations and showed that years of being together produces a tight and cohesive sound. Sometimes Alison’s vocals could be hard to hear over the band or the cheering and singing fans.
Dan Tyminski was popular with his hometown crowd, having lived in nearby Franklin County for many years. Alison talked about his odyssey from being the voice of George Clooney in O’ Brother, Where Art Thou to his recent work with Swedish DJ Avicci, with a track on the international charts. Later, when the band launched into Man of Constant Sorrow, the crowd went wild.
AKUS ranged from classics Almost Over Now, Paper Airplane, Baby, Now that I’ve Found You, Everytime You Say Goodbye, When You Say Nothing at All, Whiskey Lullaby, Ghost in This House, Rain Please Go Away, The Boy that Wouldn’t Hoe Corn.
Krauss cheerfully admits that many of their songs are sad. She’s right about that but if you can focus on her pretty voice and the beautiful music, the tales don’t seem quite so sad.
Jerry Douglas, who was breaking in a shiny new black dobro, did two solo numbers covering Paul Simon and Chick Corea. Even with no vocals, he makes those strings sing.
A lovely set with two guitars, Alison’s divine vocals, and the band on harmony concluded the show with Down to the River to Pray, Your Long Journey and Whiskey Lullaby. The encore was When You Say Nothing At All.
Willie Nelson and Family opened with his anthem Whiskey River blended seamlessly into Still is Still Moving to Me. Next, he encouraged the audience to sing along to Beer for My Horses. He dedicated Good Hearted Woman to Waylon Jennings and then launched into Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys.
Slowing things down, Willie did a three-song medley of Funny How Time Slips Away, Crazy and Night Life.
Help Me Make it Through the Night featured a beautiful guitar solo. Willie can stretch those strings in his own special way and he’s still a powerful guitarist. Many older artists add young guns to their band to help do the heavy lifting but Willie handled the duties of both rhythm and lead guitar admirably. His band consisted of his sister Bobbie Nelson on piano, Mickey Raphael on harmonica, two drummers and a bass player.
Willie’s rendition of Georgia on My Mind is something special, featuring a sweet harmonica solo by Mickey Raphael. I never tire of hearing Willie do Georgia and You Were Always on My Mind. He is a legend.
His set list also included Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground, Me and Paul and his classic On the Road Again, as well as To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before. He did a rockabilly Shoeshine Man, a Tom T. Hall song.
City of New Orleans is one that Willie often plays but this was one of the best versions heard in recent years. In the instrumental called Nuages, he shows how many tones and colors can be coaxed out of his road-worn guitar.
Willie played the title track from his new album Band of Brothers as well as The Wall. Fans looking for the classics might have been worried but these new tunes were good!
The evening wrapped up with the collaboration everyone hoped for when Alison Krauss and the members of Union Station joined Willie and family on stage. Jerry Douglas added some hot licks to the finale and everyone joined in to sing Will the Circle be Unbroken, I’ll Fly Away and I Saw The Light. It was difficult to hear Alison over all the instruments but still fun to see her with Willie on stage. The show wrapped up with everyone on their feet for Willie’s trademark Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.